WASHINGTON—The Biden administration is in talks to offer immigrant families that were separated during the Trump administration around $450,000 a person in compensation, according to people familiar with the matter, as several agencies work to resolve lawsuits filed on behalf of parents and children who say the government subjected them to lasting psychological trauma.
The U.S. Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services are considering payments that could amount to close to $1 million a family, though the final numbers could shift, the people familiar with the matter said. Most of the families that crossed the border illegally from Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S. included one parent and one child, the people said. Many families would likely get smaller payouts, depending on their circumstances, the people said.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents families in one of the lawsuits, has identified about 5,500 children separated at the border over the course of the Trump administration, citing figures provided to it by the government. The number of families eligible under the potential settlement is expected to be smaller, the people said, as government officials aren’t sure how many will come forward. Around 940 claims have so far been filed by the families, the people said.
The total potential payout could be $1 billion or more.
As part of a so-called zero-tolerance enforcement policy, immigration agents separated thousands of children, ranging from infants to teenagers, from their parents at the southern border in 2018 after they had crossed illegally from Mexico to seek asylum in the U.S. In some cases families were forcefully broken up with no provisions to track and later reunite them, government investigations found. The lawsuits allege some of the children suffered from a range of ailments, including heat exhaustion and malnutrition, and were kept in freezing cold rooms and provided little medical attention.
Many of the lawsuits describe lasting mental-health problems for the children from the trauma of the months without their parents in harsh conditions, including anxiety, a fear of strangers and nightmares. The lawsuits seek a range of payouts, with the average demand being roughly $3.4 million per family, some of the people said.
In recent months, lawyers for the families and the government have told courts overseeing the cases that they are engaged in settlement negotiations and hoped to reach a deal by the end of November.
“President Biden has agreed that the family separation policy is a historic moral stain on our nation that must be fully remedied,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s immigrant-rights project and a lead negotiator on one of the lawsuits. “That remedy must include not only meaningful monetary compensation, but a pathway to remain in the country.”